If you don't have a large garden in which to site a vegetable plot, then raised beds might offer a way to create space to accommodate some home-grown crops for your family.
Raised beds can be used to grow vegetables, fruit or flowering plants. They are easy to maintain and should be easy to access as they can be anything up to waist height which will also make them accessible to people with disabilities.
Don't make your beds more than about a metre across otherwise it will be difficult to reach into the middle of them and you want to avoid standing on soil especially when it is wet. If the beds have high sides and are situated in an exposed garden, bear in mind that they will probably be more prone to cold in the winter months.
Raised beds can be placed where space is limited or soil or drainage is poor. They can fit into any shape plot. Ones made especially for children can be mini gardens for them to cultivate. They can include little statues or gnomes to keep watch over the crops or flowers and colourful windmills that move in the wind to add interest. Weeding in a small container will not be a heavy chore for the children. Small hand-held tools for small hands will work well in this miniature landscape.
A raised bed can be built from a huge range of materials, including recycled materials in order to save money. Railway sleepers are very heavy to move but can be built up into layers to create the height you desire. They can be painted in dark colours to make them look less obtrusive or bright colours to make them look quite funky. Bricks can be used to build a bed of any shape and size and are maintenance-free, durable and retain the Sun's warmth. Brick beds must contain drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
Old containers can be used instead, for example sinks, water tanks, old tyres and baths. They are perfect for making mini gardens for children to play with. Whatever objects you use, make sure that they can hold the weight of the soil that will fill them and that they won't fall over. Also ensure that there will be adequate drainage at the bottom.
If you want to construct a garden on a roof terrace, all plants will be container grown. It is imperative that you check that the roof can take the weight of what you want to construct. Keep children safe with barriers that are tall enough.
Raised beds can be filled with the perfect soil for the types of plants you want to grow. Although it will cost you money to buy in a huge quantity of soil rather than use what you already have in your garden, you will have the benefit of not having to prepare it for sowing. Adding any home-made compost into the mix can help to reduce costs.
The soil in raised beds heats up more quickly in the spring than the ground giving you a longer growing season. Seedlings can get off to a good start and succession sowing can ensure you have a good yield from your plot.
Plants are at their most vulnerable when they are young. They want well-drained, weed-free, fine-textured soil and they also need protection and warmth. Fruit and vegetables must have some full sun. If a bed is close to a wall, it may be partly sheltered from the rain, so make sure it gets enough watering. Plants should be watered in the evening or early morning, not when the Sun is at its full height.
If you don't have room for a greenhouse in your garden, use cloches to help get your crops off to a good start in the spring. They trap the Sun's warmth and help to keep chilly, spring winds off the earth. They will encourage seeds to sprout or protect tender seedlings that have been raised indoors. If the cloches are totally enclosed they will protect your plants from pests, birds and rabbits as well.
Small cloches can be made from soft drinks bottles that have been cut down. Your children can paint some pictures on the sides to make them more colourful. Paint mixed with PVA glue will stick to the plastic. The tops can be removed to increase ventilation.
Top crops for children to grow are carrots, radishes and lettuce. They are colourful and quick to mature.
Cold frames are usually positioned against a south-facing wall. They can be used to harden off seedlings in the spring or house melons and cucumbers for the whole of their growing season to give them the heat they need. Mini greenhouses will give you the height you need to grow tomatoes.
Beds will need extra nutrients over time; the soil can be topped up with compost from your own heap.
If flowers and ornamental plants are put into raised beds, trailing plants should be positioned around the edges where they will have the opportunity to descend the walls. If you have children, you may want to avoid growing some of the more poisonous plants like monkshood and also plants that cause skin irritations when they are picked like euphorbia.
Raised beds can look very neat, add interest to a garden design and provide low-maintenance gardening for busy people. They can prove to be very versatile in order to fulfill all your family's gardening needs.
Christina Sinclair is a lecturer and self-published children's author with qualifications in design. She is now writing 'The Salty Sam Fun Blog for Children' which is to be found on her website. The blog has articles about history, science, nature, gardening and environmental issues. It also has free craft downloads, knitting patterns, easy recipes and other projects for children. Visit it at http://www.christina-sinclair.com/blog/
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